We now return to regularly scheduled cruising adventures

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Grenada brings respite to the Totem crew. The last five months have been crazy: bashing against conditions from Bahama to the BVIs, dealing with skin cancer scares in Puerto Rico, running south from hurricanes through the Lesser Antilles, and working the whirlwind of the Annapolis boat show. This frenzied roller coaster was well outside our usual rhythm, even though not much of typical life on Totem could really be characterized as “normal” anyway. Finally, here in Grenada, there’s a strong sense that we’re finally getting back to something resembling our normal. Taking time to get out and enjoy the place we’re in, the company of people around us.

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KIDS KIDS KIDS

The biggest reason life is especially good right now: KID BOATS. Totem’s younger crew members are so happy to be among a group of other kids. Reuniting with old friends has been exceptionally sweet for the kids (and pretty awesome for me and Jamie, too).  As if converging with these families wasn’t good enough, there are teens. Lots of teens!

Ava and Mairen

Ava and Mairen

There’s a beach to dinghy to and hang out.  Organized volleyball on a sand court at the marina where we’re anchored; there’s a skilled cruisers giving instruction to the kids. Sleepovers…and toasting with your forks over chocolate-chip pancakes the next morning.

Teens/tweens from four different boats

Teens/tweens from four different boats

Late departure (March) from Florida put us behind typical Caribbean route timing; coming through the Bahamas, most of the kid boats we met were going the other direction. Beyond the Bahamas, they’d already jetted to safe territory further south. Well, here they are!

Dinghy full of teens and tweens

Dinghy full of teens and tweens

I’m told this is a “slow year” for kid boats in Grenada. Granted, we’re less dialed into the younger kid fleet, but not feeling a shortage.

Everyday life

A cruiser flock migrates annually to Grenada to wait out the hurricane season in a (relatively) safe zone. One of the less appealing aspects of being among a large group of relatively stationary folks on boats is the culture that seems to spring up around it. The same phenomenon happens in George Town, Bahamas, and other cruiser nooks around the world. Some of this is great, like cruisers sharing their skill sets, from yoga to volleyball. Some is decidedly not, as facets of the mainstream we hoped we’d left behind crop up (plans for anchorage trick-or-treating have as many rules as a homeowner’s association in a gated community!). There is SO MUCH going on: the “events” segment of the morning VHF net lasted 23 minutes recently. People: thats Twenty. Three. Minutes.

Colorful shop inland

Colorful shop inland

Some of the culture/rulesy stuff may grate, but on balance it means positivity in new faces, new stories, new opportunities. Like getting together with a few boats to organize island tours to cool spots: a rum distillery with works dating to the 1800s, a cacao plantation with a chocolate production factory, a string of waterfalls.

Crushing sugar cane

Crushing sugar cane

Or another day, to gather with a few boats to be led by an experienced hand from one bay to another, through a nature preserve (thank you Fatty!).

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There’s a great vibe to Grenada in general, friendly and mellow. The easy greetings of a small community, eye contact and a smile. Walking on a country road? Someone will stop to see if you need a ride, just because. I would happily have walked to a meet up the other day but ended up with rides both times, only a couple of minutes into what should have been a half hour walk.

Grenada is lush, a gardeners dream. It’s been really wet, but the rain creates that lush landscape, cascading waterfalls and beautiful flowers. Driving around the island, there’s food everywhere you look: banana trees, breadfruit, papaya, mango, avocado, taro, cassava… and nutmeg, nutmeg trees are everywhere (that’s a nutmeg fruit Mairen’s holding, below).

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flowers

Float like a butterfly... no wait...

Float like a butterfly… no wait…

It’s sometimes frustrating how wet things are this time of year; more often rain just nudges us slow down and breathe. After so many arid months this year, we soak it in. We’ve been parched.

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Rain squalls can drop the temperature to around 80... enough for Siobhan to put on jeans

Rain squalls can drop the temperature to around 80… enough for Siobhan to put on jeans

Squalls mean shower time for Niall!

Squalls mean shower time for Niall!

Squalls also make dramatic photos. The Goodlander's Amphritite, Ganesh

Squalls also make dramatic photos. The Goodlander’s Amphritite 43, Ganesh

Hauling out

We hauled out with just one day’s rest after I got back from the Annapolis boat show: not exactly a break, but deferred maintenance called. It’s almost exactly three years since Totem was last out of the water in Thailand, and new bottom paint was past due. It’s a strange feeling to see all the old paint removed. Yes, the hull needs a paint job too…no, it won’t happen this time around. Or probably the next!

Bare bottom!

Bare bottom!

I”m expecting to have a lot to say about being hauled, the Grenada vs. Trinidad haulout options, what we learned out of the water this last week, and work planned on Totem next… that will have to wait for future updates. We’re splashing today, and Jamie and I have a date to walk around the yard and look at the other boats. Romantic, no? Our version of a date anyway!

Until later… a dose of the great colors of Grenada.

colorful Grenada

Happy boat kids, happy boat

0 kids in the berrysCruising is great for families! Cruising grows healthy kids! Cruising kids are exceptionally well socialized! Cruising can provide kids a broad world view! These are true, but oversimplifications. For all the great benefits to be derived from this lifestyle, it won’t work for a family if the kids aren’t happy, and you can’t take happy kids for granted. Starting young, it’s less complicated; older kids who have to separate more meaningfully from routines and friends in particular are more challenging.

We started in a magic window of ages when our kids (newly turned 4, 6 and 9) mostly wanted to hang out with mom and dad. Friends were important, but our nuclear family was most important. Every child is unique and every family will experience this differently, but I believe it to be generally true and a circumstance that’s fostered and maintained close relationships in our family.

2 tight family relationships

As kids grow older, it’s progressively important that they have other kids to hang out with. Nomadic kids have a lower bar for friends to enter that playgroup circle: they quickly unlearned the false importance of age, gender, interests, or other artificial boundary lines.

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Niall’s happy to go off with parents and a young boy as buddies for a dinghy adventure

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Niall plays airplane with Mathilda while sisterhood happens with boat kids in a range of ages

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It’s not uncool to play with a three year old.

That next best friend isn’t an anchorage away.  Occasionally, yes, but it takes planning more than serendipity or you’ll have lonely kid(s). This costs a big element of control for your route planning: not easy, especially for families planning a shorter sabbatical cruise with a vision for where they want to go.

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Four kid boats, middle of the Indian Ocean…not by serendipity, but by planning.

If an important driver for plans needs to be finding and connecting and hanging out with the other boat families…HOW do you do this?
pinterest happy boat kids

Every region has a hub and a season where boats gather: get yourself there, and you’ll connect with families. Those families may become your buddy boats, or the boats that connect you with your kids’ next best cruising kid friend. Marathon / Boot Key Harbor, Florida, collect cruising families as boats stage to head to the Bahamas for the winter; as the season picks up, it’s George Town, Bahamas where you’ll find them. Prickly Bay, Grenada, gets the biggest kid boat call during hurricane season and St Martin / Sint Maarten seems to be a crossroads in general.

Every other boat has a blog/Instagram/YT channel/Facebook page. Dial into the kid boat community online, and use that as a way to find, track, and connect with other families. This is one of the reasons SailingTotem has an active family blogroll page to browse.

Another good resource is the Kids4Sail group: there’s an admin post around the first of the month with regional check-ins to help families find each other.

The anchorage mapping tool we use for Totem, Farkwar, has a “fleet” for kid boats. At one URL (and a bit of clicking/dragging) I can see which boats in the fleet are near us—and follow boats in our region that we hope to catch up with (like the three teens on Allegro!).

Farkwar screenshot

Each of those waypoints is a boat with kids: several with teens, even!

Don’t just follow families, reach out! As a parent of teens on board I LOVE IT when another family with teens reaches out to see if we can connect when they see we may be in the same region. We help each other out with introductions to each other, since plenty of families aren’t as active in social media.

West coast cruisers have it much easier: cruising boats flow in a linear path along the coastline. In the South Pacific, they migrate along a seasonal route, the so-called Coconut Milk Run, westward with a dip down to New Zealand or Australia during the southern hemisphere cyclone season. Boats arriving in French Polynesia from Mexico will have known each other for months already; new friends enter with the Caribbean fleet sailing down from Panama.

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Shoes, still overrated.

The myriad of routing options from boats departing the US east coast for the Caribbean complicates things; it’s less likely to happen organically, especially for tween/teens. I’m told the Mediterranean is similar, where again there are a wealth of options for routing instead of a linear progression followed by most cruisers. And some regions, well, they’re simply off the beaten path: South America. The Indian Ocean. We loved our year in remote Papua New Guinea and eastern Indonesia, but it was many moons without another family boat and were REALLY READY for socializing by the time we reached more trafficked cruising grounds. Being around other kid boats is a choice that requires engagement.

On Totem we’re lucky to have a built in tribe. Our kids are tight, and their reliance on each other has surely strengthened this bond.

1 they have each other

After a presentation in Miami last month, Niall responded to a question from the audience about the social side cruising as a teen. He has perspective on the pros and cons, but summarized it by saying “my sisters are my best friends.” I might have teared up a little, but it’s true.

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Wonderful as it is that they are so tight, they also need OTHER kids. Staying in touch with cruising friends through email and texting is important: they routinely use Google Hangouts to chat with friends across several continents, maintaining long term relationships. They’re important, but not a replacement for in-person interactions.

With teens aboard, the happiness calculus gets more complicated. FOMO goes to a whole new level for kids that rely on phone/internet to feel connected. There’s a whole chapter in Voyaging With Kids dedicated to the unique needs and perspective of teens.

The teen bonfire, carefully spaced away from their parents

The teen bonfire, carefully spaced away from their parents: Maldives 

Personal space is key (Siobhan and Mairen have already worked out who gets Niall’s cabin when he leaves for college). For families looking at moving aboard, it’s not just the physical space but how they personalize it to make it theirs. As teens build and connect with their growing identities as young adults, we support them as parents by giving them a voice in planning. Family planning is a round table where everyone’s goals and desires are taken into account. Their desires matter, whether it’s plans for the day or the season.

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Niall’s desire to complete the circumnavigation before college changed our plans significantly, and that’s just fine. On the beach in Eleuthera this week

We’ve had a long stretch with few boat kids in their age range (getting within a three year spread would be great). There have been intersections that provided critical injections of camaraderie, but we’re all feeling it. Leaving Florida so late in the season put us out of sync with the migratory fleet. It’s pulling us to shift our summer plans, and look at hustling south to Grenada sooner rather than later. It’s partly the promise of the a gathered fleet during hurricane season, but mostly because another kid boat—friends we’ve crossed an ocean with—are sailing there soon. Hurricane season worries factors in, too; we have no insurance coverage during named storms, and Grenada is relatively safe from historical storm tracks. Parts of our plans more fixed than flexible (Niall is keen to cross our circumnavigation track in Pacific Mexico before college next year), but this is a shift we can make.

It throws our calendar up in the air again, but that’s a kind of status quo for us lately. This much we know: as great as our kids are at flying together as a solo tribe, we’re looking forward to connecting them with kids closer to their age again soon.

Siobhan watches sunset in Thailand

Siobhan watches sunset in Thailand

Mairen on the windward side of Eleuthera this week

Mairen on the windward side of Eleuthera this week

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How cruising wrecks lives

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It’s become profoundly clear that we’ll never be normal again. Is it unsettling? A little. We were a poster family for Normal, and utterly happy. Sitting in Totem’s cockpit from our mooring in the Mystic River, looking towards Noank in the fading light, that normal life—and the security that came with it—is lost to us.

Traded it all for the excitement of boat plumbing

Traded it all for the excitement of boat plumbing

The feeling germinates being back in a sped-up world, where there’s more of a rush to the finish than an appreciation for what’s around. Close traffic, fast cars. Foul language over the VHF, disrespect for rules of the road. We have fallen out of sync with our routines on board for learning, writing, taking care of Totem, and taking care of ourselves. If it weren’t for the steady stream of family and friends we’re sharing these weeks with I’d probably feel thrown off balance.

Daphne’s crew departing just after sunset

Daphne’s crew departing just after sunset

A couple of thought provoking conversations drive the feeling home. We’ve had a few interviews in the last couple of weeks and I appreciate how they’ve pushed us to better understand the space between us now, and us before. I’m not sure how to articulate it yet, but keep trying! Part of the difference is how we’ve embraced the loss of security. I’ll recount our early years, saying “when we ran out of money the first time, we stopped in Australia.” Just the idea that we might be willing to do this is anathema to our old selves. But it wasn’t going to kill us, and it did make us stronger. Our worries and priorities shifted.

Processing events of the day with Siobhan

Processing events of the day with Siobhan

“Tell me about places where you’ve seen environmental devastation?” comes one question, followed with, “and what about places of hope?” One of our early goals was to help the kids appreciate our human impact on the world. This is accomplished in spades, but to what end? We can share a litany of examples to answer the former question, but relatively few for the latter. We’re back in the middle of a consumption-driven society that seems namelessly behind so much of the imbalance we experienced between humans and our environment, and it screams at me, but there seems to be little recognition of our collective responsibility. Changed as we are by what we’ve seen, it is now anathema to re-enter the culture we once claimed.

Two cruising families in two weeks have intersected with our crew, buoying us. One has been back a year: the former crew of Daphne offer a sounding board and a lifeline. They’re proof you can pass, for a while at least, and find a way forward. Hearing their stories, sharing ours, helps center me again.

There’s Sasquatch!

There’s Sasquatch!

We see with the kids from these cruising families how that much-feared question of socialization plays out in practice. The awkward gaps of conversation in meeting fade quickly. With each family, it only takes minutes for the kids to make their way from the neutral meeting zone of the cockpit to the table in the main cabin down below. They are playing cards, sharing music, and laughing uproariously in minutes. None of them are owned by a little screen somewhere nearby, dropping bits of pixie dust to an irresistible lure away from genuine human interaction.

Dutch Blitz with new friends aboard Totem

Dutch Blitz with new friends aboard Totem

Busy weeks of exploring and experiencing the USA again are slowing down, and ready for reflection and context. One clear sign that “cruiser normal” is returning is that there’s time again to resume our routines. Exhibit A: the kids’ computer is back in action after a long haitus for repair, and Niall spent the morning helping his sisters with math lessons.

I love how she’s touching his arm while he explains linear equations

Sneaky Mama Pic: I love how she’s touching his arm while he explains linear equations

Jamie spent the morning working on the watermaker, and cleaning some apawling (ba dump bump, bad sailor pun) winches.

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Winch maintenance: at least as fun as plumbing

Balance is found, for now. It’s supported by the company with like-minded humans who recognize we’re not crazy for walking away from our secure, safe lives.

Rigging Darrin’s 110 for racing

Rigging Darrin’s 110 for racing

“Becoming a parent wrecks your life…for the better.” This was the sage advice of my cousin when I was pregnant with Niall. While we couldn’t quite grok it at the time, he was right. Your life is profoundly impacted, and the lens through which you see the world is forever shifted. Cruising is much the same: our lives, as we knew them, are wrecked. There’s no going back to before. Looking at how it’s changed us and shaped our kids, we wouldn’t have it any other way.

aloha shirt, jam jar of wine...must be sundowners

aloha shirt, jam jar of wine…must be sundowners